By Aminta Kilawan-Narine
On Wednesday, seventeen people were killed as gunfire erupted at a high school in Florida right before classes ended for the afternoon. Authorities say a former student, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, ran through Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkdale, Florida, firing at students and teachers in his path. Cruz had reportedly been expelled for disciplinary reasons. He was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday after being questioned for hours by state and federal authorities.
The attack is one of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history. Two federal law enforcement officials say the Smith & Wesson M&P AR-15 rifle used in the rampage was purchased legally at Sunrise Tactical Supply in Florida. A Mississippi bail bondsman named Benjamin Bennight says he alerted the FBI last September after someone using the screen name “Nikolas Cruz” posted a comment on his YouTube channel saying: “Im going to be a professional school shooter.” Jordan Jereb, the leader of a white nationalist militia says suspect Nikolas Cruz was a member of his group and participated in paramilitary drills in Tallahassee. He told The Associated Press on Thursday that his group, the Republic of Florida, wants Florida to become its own white ethno-state. He said his group holds “spontaneous random demonstrations” and tries not to participate in the modern world.
Jereb also said that the perpetrator had “trouble with a girl” and he believed the timing of the attack, on Valentine’s Day, wasn’t a coincidence. Suffice it to say, this shooting was probably preventable.
It was the eighteenth school shooting this year. It’s only the month of February. On Thursday, Trump delivered a national address from the White House, saying he wanted to speak directly to America’s children, saying “you are never alone, and you never will be.”
He said no child should have to go to school fearing for their lives. Trump said he’ll travel to Florida meet with victims’ families, explore how to better secure schools and “tackle the difficult issue of mental health.” He never once mentioned guns or gun control. He never once mentioned the perpetrator’s white supremacist leanings. Instead, he conflated evil with mental illness. Trump forgot to mention that, in one of his first decisions as president, he signed a measure passed by the Republican-led Congress that repealed an Obama-era regulation designed to block some mentally ill people from buying guns.
Trump’s address was met with justifiable rebuke. One survivor of Wednesday’s massacre, a student named Sarah, lashed out at the President on Twitter saying “I don’t want your condolences, you f******* piece of s***.” “My friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead.” The student called on the President to take action on gun control. “Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But control will prevent it from happening again,” she wrote. David Hogg, another student who survived the deadly shooting, looked directly at the camera during a CNN interview and pleaded with Congress to take immediate action: “Please, this is the 18th one this year. That’s unacceptable. We are children. You guys are the adults.”
Sadly, I wouldn’t hold my breath and wait for this current Administration to take action. There seems to be no shooting large or brutal enough to trigger gun control. The mass shooting that killed 20 precious first graders in their Sandy Hook Elementary School classroom didn’t change anything. The Orlando night club shooting didn’t change anything. The Las Vegas massacre didn’t change anything.
It should be underscored that Wednesday’s perpetrator used the same exact weapon as shooters did in Aurora, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Orlando, San Bernadino, Sutherland Springs and Las Vegas: an AR-15 assault-style rifle. These guns can fire up to 45 rounds per minute. Gun manufacturers have called them one of the most popular weapons in the United States. According to the New York Times: “In Florida, an AR-15 is easier to buy than a handgun.” How can anyone defend this? And yet they do. Florida specifically has some of the least-restrictive gun laws in the country.
Why are we witnessing mass shootings so often that they become normalized in our discourse? Is it because as Americans we are a hateful or violent people? I don’t think so. I think it’s because fatal weapons are way too accessible to any and all people in this country. Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. If the perpetrator of Wednesday’s shooting was Muslim or an immigrant, I bet the current presidential administration would have been quick to call out radicalism or propose a change to immigration policy. They won’t call ever out white supremacy though.
In response to Wednesday’s shooting, NYS Governor Cuomo said: “When is enough enough? … Warm wishes are nice. You know what’s better? Action. Do something. You get elected to lead. Do something. They’re afraid to act because they’re afraid of three letters … N-R-A. That’s what this is about. It’s political fear.” The NRA is a political lobbying group that spends an obscene amount of money to ensure that Congress protects gun rights. It is this group’s money that is taking lives each time we hear of another massacre.
The only way to change the conversation around gun violence in this country is to replace the federal elected officials who have the power to implement gun control. Vote any Congress member who doesn’t believe in gun control out of office and tell your relatives (especially those who live in conservative states like Florida and Georgia) to do the same. This is a sure-fire way to make a difference. Anything else will repeat the same tragic circumstances that we witnessed on Wednesday. All parents have the right to see their kids through their school doors and exit those doors alive and well.
Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, said on the Senate floor on Wednesday afternoon. “Let me just note once again for my colleagues: this happens nowhere else other than the United States of America. This epidemic of mass slaughter, this scourge of school shooting after school shooting, it only happens here. Not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction. We are responsible for a level of mass atrocity that happens in this country with zero parallel anywhere else.” The U.S. government should assume blame for not adequately protecting its citizens, especially defenseless innocent children. It’s time for Congress to finally bat an eyelid and implement gun law reform, even if our president, arguably a white supremacist himself, refuses to do so.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.